In the 15th century, medieval knights hung up their lances and suits of armor in their castle closets. Chivalry was dead and the Renaissance was born. It spread with great speed from its birthplace in Florence, Italy to the rest of Europe. Every region seemed to have its own take on humanism as there was a yearning to get back in touch with the ancient Greek and Roman cultures. Architects designed cathedrals and buildings like the Chateau de Chambord with columns, arches and domes, oh my! Many of these beautiful, awe-inspiring structures are still standing and are almost as old as some in Congress.
During the Renaissance, philosophical reasoning took a backseat to the new scientific methods being used and respected. You had to see it to believe it. Stars weren’t held up in the sky by angels. There were now sound, logical explanations for everything. The Renaissance saw significant changes in the way the universe was viewed and the methods sought to explain natural phenomena. Because of this, mathematics, astronomy, alchemy and biology flourished. Illnesses could be cured by reliable means of leaches and drilling holes in the skull to release demons. Science was on the move. Galileo and Copernicus were looking to the stars and expanding people’s self-centered worldview. The sun didn’t revolve around man and the world wasn’t flat. While Columbus was out proving these new ideas by sailing to new continents and dropping off a few European diseases; his peeps back in Spain began a grand inquisition where they put the Jews on trial and, through torture, asked them nicely to convert to Christianity. The Muslims, or moors, would pack up and leave Europe and set up shop in Africa.
In the art world, Da Vinci doodled human anatomy sketches and painted a pissed off Mona Lisa as she constantly murmured, “Are we done yet?” Michelangelo would reach for the sky as he threw together a little something on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. As the Renaissance progressed, religious artwork was overtaken by images of a secular nature. Scenes from Genesis eventually became dogs playing poker. Off in England, the Elizabethan Era was in full swing and Bill Shakespeare feather penned a few poems and plays. On the twelfth night, sometime during a midsummer’s night dream, he wrote about kings, romance and treachery – all the while taming a shrew. He made it big after his death, but at that time, it was much ado about nothing. Oh well, all’s well that ends well.
Over in Germany, a theologian by the name of Martin Luther popped on the scene and didn’t like the way the religious show was being run, basically saying I don’t like all your pope stuff and your pope rules and your popey-pope-church. As a matter-of-fact, there was a pope-pourri of reasons why he wanted to break away from the church. His main beef being the sale of indulgences in which people would flip God a shekel and their sins were wiped clean. The uppity monk nailed a list of demands to church doorways then told the pope, “Let’s get ready to rummmmmm-ble!” Around this time, a dude named Gutenberg invented the printing press, and Luther was able to do a mass mailing of his grievances to surrounding villages, thus getting word out quickly and ringing in the Protestant Reformation.
Russia was a smorgasbord of fighting principalities, but somehow pulled together to find a Tsar in the mid-1500s. Catherine and Peter would become great and Ivan would just be terrible. The Ming Dynasty in China was at the peak of its expansion and was tinkering around with a powder that would fire projectiles through the air and into people’s mushy heads. This was a game changer. The sword was put down and the musket was picked up.
England was fighting the Scots, while France was fighting England, which would only last one hundred years. During that brief battle, Spain and Portugal would parlay off Columbus’ findings and send fleets over to the New World to grab some coffee. But, they needed sugar for their coffee. Next, they realized they wanted to smoke on their coffee break, so they grabbed some tobacco. Their women demanded chocolate, so they went back for that. When they noticed their teeth were falling out, they confiscated all the gold in Central America to use for their fillings. Finally, they said, “Ah hell, let’s just grab the land and colonize it.” As a result of colonial expansion, the European superpowers would slug it out for their piece of the shepherd’s pie. France would end up fighting Spain, but this time, it only lasted thirty years.
The Americas became a honey hole. With all the great goodies found over there, an industrial revolution exploded and made a mediocre Britain great. Factories and mills sprouted an upbringing about long work days. The English put their profits into building ships and cannons, then sailed over to India and Asia to grab some spices and added a few more territories to their rapidly expanding empire, just so the sun would never set on them.
One of their big colonies was taking off. America had cotton, fur, snuff, and damn good whiskey. King George was like, “Hey, we paid for your trip over there and we want our money back.” So he imposed a bunch of taxes on items like tea, stamps and booze. The American colonists went crazy and rebelled. A bunch of highly intelligent men with white wigs got together and formed a continental congress and drafted a declaration stating, “We don’t need you pompous limeys ruling us. We want our independence!” King George fired back, “That ain’t be happening, govna!”
Patrick Henry slurred, “Give me liberty, or give me a lager.” Samuel Adams answered the call.
While Thomas Paine was making sense with “Common Sense” pamphlets, George Washington was sharpening his sword that had been dulled by a cherry tree. It was go time. The redcoats against the beaver coats. After an out-of-control tea party in Boston, the English loaded up their ships with crates of whoop-ass and sailed for America. The always-indecisive Paul Revere rode through the town yelling, “The British may, or may not be coming!” A revolution ensued. A general crossed a river. Soldiers shivered at Valley Forge. Battles were won and lost. Another general turned traitor. And somehow, eventually, thirteen little colonies became one big country.
France was instrumental in helping the United States gain its independence. They liked the revolution idea so much that they decided to give it a whirl. Enlightened visionary philosophers: like Locke, Kant, and Voltaire, oh my, stirred up the French peasants to throw out the monarchy and crooked church scumbags who had been running the country. There was an attack on the Bastille, a march on Versailles, and terrible begat sword fights in the streets. It was raining a reign of terror and people were losing their heads… thanks to the guillotine. When things calmed down and everyone was tired of fighting, an unknown peaceful fellow stepped into power. His name was Napoleon. Unfortunately, this little poodle tyrant had a complex and would try to fix it by invading the European continent. Somewhere in Russia, his soldiers would turn into frozen mousse cakes, and the rest of his military tartlets would get a beat-down at Waterloo.
During the 18th century Victorian era, Beethoven was tearing up Vienna, Dickens was getting tale in two cities, and monarchs were marrying other monarchs from every European country. Nobody could keep track if a queen was a niece, a sister, or a wife to another monarchy. It was noble incest gone wild. This would bring about family squabbles and a bunch of wars in Europe. Who doesn’t like a good fight to clear the air? Every battle was followed by a treaty and every treaty was followed by another battle. But, while Dukes were duking it out, off to the west, a great power was emerging.
Hot off its independence, the American mindset was, “Whatever money I makes, I gets to keeps.” The industrial revolution had made its way to the new liberated country and capitalistic ideals propelled people to be the best they could be. Entrepreneurs opened businesses, educated themselves, farmed, trapped, ranched, and invented anything that could make a buck: steam engines, cotton gins, mining tools, and textiles. The beautiful, spacious skies were the limit. Goods (and Bads) were being transported around the country by horsies,, canals, and railroads, oh my (Never gets old)! Everything was rapidly on the move—even bearded old timers in the west, who were in search of gold. There were saloons in every town and cathouses in every salon. Slavery put a black mark on the label “land of the free” and, at some point, there was a civil war that wasn’t very civil. Thousands lost their lives, while the ones who lived lost limbs. Ultimately, slavery was abolished and Rhett Butler told Scarlet he didn’t give a damn.
Over in Turkey, the Ottoman Empire was mixing it up in a Crimean War with Russia. Islam encompassed the Middle East and the Jews were still scattered. Africa had big purring, furry cats that weren’t endangered yet and a bunch of tribes with cool names like Zulus. (The Brits would fight this kingdom in 1879 and Alfie would be in a movie about it in 1964.) In Japan, shoguns were enjoying kabuki and silk paintings, but were shown no respect by geisha girls who walked all over them. By the turn of the century, the Japanese would put down their samurai swords, pick up rifles and attack Russia. Why not? Everyone else had. China was still hung up in the dynasty thing and wanted to remain ancient, while hiding behind its Great Wall. The best way to do this was by massacring the foreign missionaries to keep outsider influence away. This massacre was known as the Boxer Rebellion. It had nothing to do with dogs or Rocky Balboa.
At the turn of the 19th century, the rough riding American president, Teddy Roosevelt was whispering and carrying a big stick, while Henry Ford was taking the horse off the streets and putting the horse power in a Model T. Two Dayton dudes, Orville and Wilbur, were proving they had the “Wright stuff” by flying a winged bicycle over the sand dunes of Kitty Hawk, meowing at the friendly skies—Later on, Amelia Earhart would curse the duo on her way down.
Things were beginning to percolate in Europe, especially in the Balkan region where Serbs and Greeks were booting the Ottomans… outta’ there. Turkey was almost gobbled up, but, more importantly, this would be the opening act to World War One. It was called “one” because one little assassin’s bullet hit the archduke of Hungary causing a frenzy of countries to align themselves against each other. The main event would be Britain, France and Russia, taking on Germany, Austria-Hungary and the Ottoman Empire. America would roll the doughboys over to the party later on in the game. Trenches were dug. Machine guns fired. Shells were lobbed with a little mustard gas on the side. And millions of people died over nationalism. The League of Nations formed and a Treaty of Versatile was signed. All was quiet on the western front. Finally, peace forever, or so we thought.
Everyone in the world needed a time out, except the Russians. Lenin stirred up a bloody revolution in which his Bolsheviks overthrew Czar Nicholas II and set up the first Marxist state. (No, Groucho was not in the picture, although movies were appearing for the first time in the US, along with flappers and prohibitions, as happy days were here again.) A depressed Germany rolled wheel barrels of money down its streets in search of a loaf of bread, as an angry unsuccessful artist with a funny moustache stewed. Soon he would rise to rescue the shattered Fatherland.
At some point, the stock market crashed and greedy brokers high dived from the forty story windows. While the world was dealing with a depression, Adolph Hitler was thinking about aggression. The new German dictator busied himself with producing a huge army, tanks, submarines, airplanes, some Hitler youth and a few concentration camps where the gestapo could concentrate on extinguishing the Jewish race. Over in England, Neville Chamberlain, the prime minister, sat with some tea and crumpets confidently mumbling, “The Hitler chap is perfectly harmless.”
World War II began with an opening number of Germany invading Poland. All of Europe and some of Africa would be next. Fascism was in and Chamberlain was out, as Churchill vowed to fight by land, sea, or air. The London rain would be replaced by the Luftwaffe bombs. With France and Italy under his stiff outstretched Sieg Heil arm, the furor, with a fury, decided to play Russian roulette by turning his panzers towards Stalingrad.
While America was doing the Lindy Hop, Japan was doing the island hop, grabbing lots of Asian landmass. They would give a wake-up call to the “sleeping giant” by attacking Pearl Harbor. There was nothing to fear but fear itself… and bullets and bombs. From Saipan to Iwo Jima, to Guadalcanal to the Philippines, it was a jungle out there and MacArthur returned and nipped it in the bud. The naval battle of Midway turned the Pacific tides of war and Tokyo Rose changed her tune over the airwaves.
Hitler’s Nazi knees knocked as the Russians, along with their winter, froze the German advance. The allies would breach the Atlantic Wall, and Patton, with the greatest generation of soldiers, would slap his way to Berlin. They would come face-to-face with furry hat soviet comrades. The handwriting was on the Berlin Wall. A Cold War would take center stage for the next fifty years.
In 1945, Japan was willing to fight to its death, but they had second thoughts after the second bomb mushroomed. They signed a peace agreement and the sun set on the land of the rising sun. The peaceful Gandhi curried the favor of the British by going on a diet of nothing until India was left to self-govern the snake charmers. That Hindu, could do! A man named Mao started a revolution in China until it turned red. And, the United Nations gave the Promised Land back to the scattered Jews and the pissed Arabs decided to hold the world over the oil barrel.
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